Sound | Time | Art
The Four Pillars
The Four Pillars is a set of rational numbers which I use to guide all of my artistic decisions. By rooting my practice in these numbers and their relationships, I create work within a self-sustaining ecosystem of parameters that allow for experimentation in a carefully controlled and self-logical environment. Through the expanded practice of tuning, I investigate the fundamental connection of time to relationship. I am striving for a pure distillation of relationship through our shared perception of the passage of time. Through direct experience of the work, your understanding of relationship becomes inextricably linked to time.
The actual numbers that make up The Four Pillars are the exponential multiples of the primes 2, 3, 7, and 11 categorized into four Pillars. Each Pillar, on a practical level, contains 4 numbers but is theoretically limitless. The First Pillar is multiples of 3, The Second Pillar multiples of 7, The Third Pillar multiples of 9, and The Fourth Pillar is multiples of 11. The addition of 2 and its exponential multiples represents the sonic and conceptual fundamental over which the rest of The Four Pillars may be expressed as natural harmonics, or, overtones.
I have always been fascinated with the idea of self-logical systems.
My earliest compositions dealt with process through systems, setting out parameters and allowing them to be filled, often by chance operations or serial methodologies. As my work as a composer matured, so did my relationship to these systems. In 2004, I composed a chord structure (Doleo Æternus) which synthesized many of these early concerns and would come to define my work for the next five years.
The Four Pillars began in 2008 as I was developing a Just Intonation tuning for toy organs that would support a standard keyboard arrangement but would also push against its boundaries. I had been working with the tenets of Just Intonation for several years already, mapping harmonic ratios to pianos, strings, and electronics to elicit specific vibrational states. My work with Just Intonation is directly indebted to the work of my long-time teachers and Gurus, La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela. Young and Zazeela’s example of continuous refinement served as a springboard for my own work toward honing my aesthetic position. Their pioneering approach to extended durations and the practice of tuning has greatly influenced my thinking and my own process.
In a Just Intonation tuning pitches exist as whole number ratios above a fundamental frequency. The earliest performances based in The Four Pillars explored the numbers as harmonic ratios to create chords and melodies in Just Intonation. Through developing a performance practice around these intervals, my own understanding of the possibilities of Just Intonation expanded greatly.
These performances lived within continuous sine wave drones constructed using these numbers in combination with additional prime numbers that were considered to be related to specific pitches. Over time I settled on a fundamental frequency of 72Hz that served as a home reference from performance to performance. This consistency of tuning allows us as performers to start from a place of comfort and understanding with each new work, giving us the freedom to explore new aspects and comprehension of the relationships.
In working with these harmonic ratios, I became less concerned with the prime numbers of the sine waves and more interested in the possibilities of the relationships within the numbers themselves. As I stripped away the aspects of the system that felt unnecessary, I became enamored with certain combinations and harmonies. The first order numbers: 2, 3, 7, 9, 11 have always been a prominent part of the performance practice, and early on I explored the idea of individual pillars as guiding frameworks for composition, and with slowly introducing more distant pitches in a similar manner to an Alap in rāga. Recent explorations have brought focus to the ratio 27:28 and to the triad 72:81:88.
I haven’t reached the end of the possibilities inherent in The Four Pillars, rather, I have discovered their further potential for organization. As in a good work of fiction, you believe the world because all of the parts make sense together. I believe that this can be true of performance, or any other artistic practice as well. By rooting all of my work within this system of numerical relationships, I create a world that is self-logical and self-defined, and so, even if you do not know the systems in place or the extent to which they are being used, the coherence of the system comes through.
As I continued to refine my choices in tuning, I developed more awareness of the other aspects of what it means to have a performance. I became focused on the light in the room, the feeling in the space, the situation. These were elements that I had been exploring for many years in collaboration with other artists, particularly Ana Baer-Carrillo and Oscar H Scott, but in 2015 I finally began making my own visual work to accompany my performances.
In making decisions about the videos I was creating (durations, quantities of lines, transparency percentages, sizes) I turned to the numbers of The Four Pillars for guidance. I realized that not only were these numbers and ratios compelling as sonic experiences, but they held great fascination in the visual and experiential world as well. I follow the same compositional logic when I set out to make a video as when I make a piece of music. The following year, I applied the same logic to making a painting, and the floodgates opened to explore a whole host of visual mediums that continue to exist within this cosmology. I had discovered a self-contained world of relationships that extends the musical composition to the visual realm.
The work does not react to the sound, is not inspired by the sound, rather, it comes from the same compositional impulse as the sound.
In developing the visual form of my practice I have come to understand the potential that these numbers hold. They assert themselves in the measurements of the objects, in the geometry on the face of the work, in the selection of the pigments, into the colors of the lights, the number of objects in the room, the way the audience is seated, the length of a section, the number of tones, the pitches themselves.
Working within this world of pre-defined parameters allows for rich experimentation. When I begin to write a piece of music, make a painting, or design an installation many of my decisions have already been made for me. This creates a situation where I am free to consider new aspects of the composition; to explore new possibilities brought about by my self-imposed constraints. As I develop work that uses these relationships as a touchstone, I find new opportunities for their implementation, I gain new understanding of the nature of these ratios, and I continue to investigate the possibility of art to transcend and alter the perception of time.